Top 5 Ways to Combine the Galapagos Islands with Mainland Ecuador
Although many travelers focus on the Galapagos Islands when they think of Ecuador, there is much more to the country. Aside from the Galapagos Islands, one of the world’s most unique and pristine wildlife areas, Ecuador also offers massive, glacier-capped volcanoes in the Andes Mountain range, wild jungle in the Amazon, and a lush, scenic countryside dotted with historic haciendas and traditional villages. The country is warm and hospitable, and well worth a visit. Here are five great ways to combine your visit to the Galapagos Islands with time in mainland Ecuador.
Explore Quito, the Galapagos Islands, the Andes Mountains, and the Ecuadorian Cloud Forest.
Start in Quito, Ecuador’s capital and a UNESCO World Heritage city. Your luxurious boutique hotel is located right in the colonial center. This is a great area for walking around the cobblestone streets, with traditional plazas and architecture and a variety of shops and restaurants. Your local guide will show you the city’s highlights on a private tour. From there, fly out over the Pacific Ocean to the Galapagos Islands, one of the world’s best destinations for nature and wildlife encounters.
Your 8-day Galapagos cruise will take you to explore the islands in depth, experiencing the different ecosystems of this glittering archipelago. Eight days is an ideal length for a Galapagos cruise, letting you experience several of the different islands and visitor sites. Galapagos ships are intimate expedition vessels. You’ll be traveling with a small group of fellow adventurers, and each day you can enjoy excursions like snorkeling, hiking, panga rides, and, depending on your vessel, other activities like kayaking, SCUBA diving, and standup paddle boarding. Spend the days searching out a variety of plant and animal life unlike that found anywhere else in the world.
When you disembark from your unforgettable cruise, fly back to mainland Ecuador, where your private guide will be waiting to take you north along the scenic Pan American Highway. Visit charming villages and enjoy a typical meal at a historic hacienda. Your destination is the incredible Hacienda Zuleta, a 17th-century working estate in the Ecuadorian Andes. Your days here are spent exploring the area around this gorgeous property in a range of excursions, including horseback riding on the hacienda’s own beautiful horses. You can also visit Otavalo Market, one of the finest and most well-known street markets in South America.
From the historic highlands, make your way into the clouds to visit Ecuador’s famed cloud forest. Your hotel, the Mashpi Lodge, is a luxurious oasis situated high in the Andes on a plateau in Ecuador’s Mashpi Rainforest Biodiversity Reserve. This is another spectacular ecosystem for observing wildlife: the bioreserve is home to hundreds of species of birds, trees, amphibians, orchids, and even large mammals. Your time at Mashpi is the perfect ending to a trip through some of Ecuador’s most spectacular destinations.
2. Ecuador and Galapagos Luxury Explorer with 5D cruise
For those who want a similar experience in a slightly shorter timeframe, consider modifying the above itinerary to include a 5 day Galapagos cruise. Although an 8 day cruise is considered the gold standard, a 5 day cruise is certainly enough time to see a variety of Galapagos wildlife and natural sites.
3. Ecuador and Galapagos Luxury Explorer with a stay on land at the Galapagos Safari Camp
Finally, you can also plan the above itinerary with time spent on land in the Galapagos Islands, rather than on a cruise. We typically don’t promote land-based tours in the Galapagos Islands, as small ship cruises have proven to be superior in terms of environmental and cultural sustainability as well as local economic impact, and they allow travelers to experience more islands and visitor sites. That said, we do work with land-based operators in the Galapagos who offer an exceptional experience in a locally respectful way. Our favorite is the Galapagos Safari Camp, an eco-luxury tented camp in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island. The property has spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and offers daily excursions to the nearby islands. If you’re not interested in cruising and prefer a land-based experience, the Galapagos Safari Camp is a great way to visit this magical place.
4. The comprehensive Ecuador Explorer
Discover even more of magical Ecuador with additional time in the breathtaking highlands region. Explore Cotopaxi National Park and Quilotoa Volcano Crater, and stay in a working hacienda built atop a former Incan palace. Travel along the rolling Avenue of the Volcanoes to a beautiful Andean hacienda nestled at the foot of Ecuador’s highest mountain, Chimborazo, a massive extinct volcano. From there, make your way south to the Ingapirca Ruins, the largest Incan ruins in Ecuador, and then on to the historic city of Cuenca. Cuenca is named for one of its striking geographical features: the city was built in a cuenca, a land basin formed by the confluence of several rivers. Explore with your private guide to find out why Cuenca is called the cultural capital of Ecuador, and consider taking a ride through the mountains on the Devil’s Nose Train, considered one of the world’s most impressive feats of railway engineering. Finally, make your way to Guayaquil and fly to the Galapagos Islands for your spectacular cruise or your stay at the Galapagos Safari Camp. Afterward, head back to the mainland and spend a few relaxing nights at the incredible Hacienda Zuleta, exploring the stunning area around it before you head home.
5. Get moving with our Active Ecuador itinerary
Maybe you want to plan a simpler itinerary that really delves into an area and lets you explore in an active way. Consider our Active Ecuador itinerary, where you can spend 4 nights really getting to know the area around beautiful Quito on a range of active excursions. Take the Teleferico cable car, one of the highest cable cars in South America, up to an altitude of 12,150 feet. At the top, explore the hiking trails that take you to a lookout point of the impressive Pichincha Volcano. Hike the lush Ecuadorian countryside through native forest and planted fields, enjoying views of the mountains Antisana, Cayambe, and Pasochoa. Go mountain biking through highlands and cloud forest, along country roads and unpaved paths. Finally, fly out over the Pacific Ocean to the Galapagos Islands, and spend your time there snorkeling, hiking, kayaking, and exploring one of the world’s most iconic and unforgettable ecosystems.
These are just a few of the top ways to combine the Galapagos Islands with mainland Ecuador, two spectacular destinations that are worthy of time and exploration. If you’re ready to start planning your own Ecuadorian adventure, just contact us and let a Destination Specialist help you plan your perfect trip!